The death toll from the second earthquake to hit eastern Turkey in about two weeks rose to 20 on Friday as several rescue teams clawed through heaps of concrete to search for two journalists believed trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hotel.
Colleagues of the two reporters from Turkey's Dogan news agency were among dozens of people anxiously waiting for news outside the wreckage of the Bayram Hotel, one of the two hotels that fell apart when the 5.7-magnitude quake hit the eastern city of Van late Wednesday.
"In our profession we always come across disasters," Dogan agency's general manager, Ugur Cebeci, told The Associated Press as he watched rescuers in red overalls search through the debris of the once five-story hotel. "But we are grappling with helplessness here."
Journalists and relief workers, who had rushed to the region in the aftermath of a more powerful earthquake that hit the region on Oct 23 themselves became victims when the hotel, weakened by the earlier temblor, collapsed on Wednesday. The fatalities include a Japanese relief worker who had come to distribute aid to quake survivors.
Rescuers pulled out eight bodies from the wreckage of the Bayram Hotel as well as the low-budget Aslan Hotel on Friday, raising the death toll to 20.
The dead include at least eight employees of a construction company who were in Van to assemble temporary housing units for survivors in nearby villages. It was not known Friday how many people remained buried in the rubble of the two collapsed hotels.
"We are not able to hear any voices," said Disaster management official Askit Dayi. "But still we are removing layers of concrete in a way as if there are survivors." He said the search efforts at both sites could end by midnight Friday.
Recep Salci of the rescue group Akut told NTV television that freezing temperatures at night were also posing a threat to any possible survivors.
Rescue teams were using an emergency evacuation plan to determine possible escape routes within the pancaked building, said Bulent Gunduz of the Siemens private rescue team. "We can see all escape routes and fire stairs," said Gunduz. "The emergency floor plan has become like a compass for us."
On Friday, Turkey notified countries offering help to deal with the new quake that it would accept tents and prefabricated homes to house survivors through the winter.
Angry residents protested in Van, accusing authorities of failing to properly inspect the buildings following the Oct. 23 quake that killed more than 600 people.